The 2010 election will be held on Saturday 21 August, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced this afternoon, after visiting the Governor-General Quentin Bryce at 10.40 to dissolve Parliament.  A House of Representatives and half-Senate election will be held on the 21st.

The Opposition needs a 2.3% swing to collect the 17 seats that will enable it to form a majority, based on new electoral boundaries.

In her first press conference of the election campaign, Gillard in essence offered a condensed version of what she has already presented in the early days of her Prime Ministership. She discussed what is likely to be one of the key Labor themes of the weeks ahead – a purported contrast between Gillard’s “moving forward” and Tony Abbott’s commitment to “taking Australia backward”.  She yet again stressed the mainstream values that have formed the rhetorical core of the early stages of the Gillard Prime Ministership.  And she made a point yet again of implicitly attacking Kevin Rudd and his commitment to a “big Australia”.

However, Gillard was, predictably, light on policy details even when challenged to indicate how she would be handling climate change, the third of the three major issues she identified upon becoming Prime Minister as requiring action on.  She merely indicated she would be making a statement about it during the campaign.

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Gillard also potentially left herself open to being ambushed by soundbite when she answered a question from Michelle Grattan on circumstances in which it is acceptable to break promises, indicating that she thought when “objective circumstances change” then promises needed to be reconsidered, and referred directly to the Government’s change of heart on childcare centres in the aftermath of the collapse of ABC Learning.  While an entirely reasonable response, it appeared to create an opportunity for the Opposition to paint her as untrustworthy.

That’s the sort of intense and often unfair scrutiny both sides are under as their opponents, and the media, search desperately for anything that can be labelled a “gaffe”.

Beyond that, it was a polished, if content-lite, performance from the new Prime Minister.

Tony Abbott gave a similarly content-free press conference, using a short – too short – announcement (in a poorly-prepared venue in Brisbane, with no backdrop and bad lighting) to attack Julia Gillard and particularly her apparent obsession with “moving forward”.  Abbott faced repeated questions about his commitment, issued this morning, not bring back Workchoices for the life of the next Parliament, which did not rule out the use of regulation (which can be changed by the relevant Minister) to enforce “flexibility” and support the Coalition’s goal of removing small business from unfair dismissal laws.  Abbott, still in Opposition rather than alternative Prime Minister mode, was primarily focussed on attacking Gillard’s competence and trustworthiness.

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